In China today, trains connect most cities and main towns, making traveling by train popular among the Chinese, even women alone. Trains fall into several main classes as below, and passengers can only travel in the class they pay for.
Hard-seat car: The car contains about 100 hard seats. The seat actually refers to a padded seat, which is OK for short-distance travel. In hard seat cars, standing-room tickets are offered, which means it sometimes gets very crowded, and also adds to the risk of being robbed, especially during the high season. Most Chinese choose this class for a journey of up to a few hours.
Soft-seat car: This is not as common, but is available on some short-distance trains, especially some inter-city trains. It is comfortable, and standing-room tickets are not available, which makes the car quieter and cleaner. The price for this class of ticket is the same as that for hard-sleeper tickets.
Hard-sleeper car: This is the most popular class for Chinese taking an overnight train. The car consists of several open compartments, each of which has six berths, including upper berths, middle berths and lower berths.
Soft-sleeper car: This is the most popular class for foreigners and some more wealthy Chinese people. The car is very clean, and each compartment is enclosed, with four berths inside. An attendant looks after each soft-sleeper car. Overnight D-Trains and long-distance T, K and Z-Trains have soft-sleeper cars.
Besides the classes mentioned above, the following cars are available on some trains:
Deluxe sleeper car: This is highly recommended, and most passengers are foreigners, Chinese businessmen, officials and rich couples. Though the ticket is not cheap and sometimes even more expensive than taking a flight, this class is often fully-booked. It is considered a moving five-star hotel, with two soft berths, a private bathroom, a shower cubicle, a sofa, an LCD TV, a closet and a telephone.
First- and second-class soft-seat cars: These cars are arranged on high-speed trains, including C-Trains, D-Trains and G-Trains.
Business-class car: This class is only available on G-Trains. Most seats are reclining seats with footrests. On some G-Trains, the business-class car may include some VIP seats or sightseeing seats with a wide window for a great view.
In China, trains are classified by train codes consisting of a letter and several numbers, indicating different conditions.
Z-Trains linking two major cities without stops were once the best and fastest trains in China, until the use of high-speed trains.
T-Trains ranked the second best, run at a top speed of 120 km/h, and may call at several major stations.
K-Trains operate at the same speed as T-Trains, but call at more places during the journey.
Train codes with only numbers move slowly and stop at most places, sometimes even every stop. Never choose this kind!
Now, high-speed trains are becoming more and more popular in China, and they are classified as C-Trains running between cities a short distance apart, D-Trains running at a top speed of 250 km/h, and G-Trains at a maximum speed of 380 km/h. All high-speed trains are very modern and comfortable.
On most trains, both western-style toilets and squat toilets are available. The cleanliness depends on how crowded the cars are. Generally speaking, toilets on high-speed trains are very clean. Toilets and washrooms in deluxe soft-sleeper cars and sleeper cars are immaculate. In hard-sleeper cars, the toilets are tolerable, but in poor condition when it comes to hard-seat cars.
Regarding hot water on the train, vacuum flasks are offered for soft-sleeper cars and deluxe sleeper cars. Passengers in other classes can go to the specialized areas to obtain hot water.
Restaurant cars or canteens are available on most trains with waiter service. Packed food, snacks and drinks are offered. For some G-Trains running between Beijing and Shanghai, there are even English menus for foreigners in restaurant cars. Passengers in hard-seat cars or hard-sleeper cars like to buy instant noodles from the canteen.
There are overhead luggage racks and under-bed areas for luggage in hard-sleeper cars. Soft-sleeper cars and deluxe sleeper cars also have space for luggage. However, this class does set a luggage limit for passengers: Adults are allowed to bring 20 kg, children 10 kg, and the maximum dimension of all items should be less than 160 cm. In fact, no one will actually weigh or measure the luggage. The only problem is that the luggage must get through the security X-ray machines when you bring it onto the train.
Smoking is not allowed in sleeper cars or corridors. It is strictly not permitted on all high-speed trains and trains to Tibet at any time. If caught, passengers will face a fine of 500–2000 Yuan for smoking on high-speed trains in China, applicable from January 1, 2014. Luckily, smokers can go to the vestibules between carriages to smoke. Some restaurant cars on T-Trains and K-Trains also allow passengers to smoke.
The standard of Hygiene on Chinese trains depends on the type of train and the class. High-speed trains (C-Trains, D-Trains and G-Trains) are the newest trains, and are all very modern and clean throughout. Soft-sleeper cars and deluxe sleeper cars are also very clean on T, Z & K trains, including the washrooms and toilets, as attendants will take care more of these carriages. The cleanliness of hard-sleeper cars is good on some newer trains, but maybe only just tolerable on some old T, Z and K-Trains. Conditions are similar in hard-seat cars to that of hard-sleeper cars.